In the first post of this blog series, I talked about what being a mentor teacher means and what it doesn’t. It’s important to understand your role in the partnership with a beginning teacher. But how do you develop a trusting, respectful, productive relationship with your mentee? How do you set up the foundation to work closely together over the next year?
Start With Self-Reflection
First, you need to think about what you want the mentor-new teacher relationship to look like. Here’s where a little self-reflection comes in:
- What kind of mentor did you have your first year? What did he/she do that helped you? How could he/she have better supported you?
- What character traits do you have that will help you serve as a mentor? What are some areas that you may need to work on?
- What do you need from your mentee in order to be an effective mentor?
- What will the new teacher need from you, and how can you provide it?
- What are you looking forward to when it comes to working with your mentee?
- What concerns do you have about working with a beginning teacher? How can you address them?
Some of these questions you may want to discuss with the new teacher, and others are just food for thought as you begin working together.
Provide a Warm Welcome
You don’t have to go over the top on this one! There are lots of small, easy things you can do to make the beginning teacher feel welcome on his/her first day at the school. You can provide a small lunch, hang a welcome sign or banner on the classroom door, handwrite a note to put in his/her staff mailbox, etc. Ask your librarian and reading teacher for some books to get the new teacher’s classroom library started. You can also put together a low-cost welcome basket with Dollar Spot goodies (or ask the office staff for basic supplies).
Whatever you do, let the new teacher know that he/she is wanted and valued!
Get to Know Each Other
Your relationship starts on Day 1. It sounds obvious, but taking time at the beginning to learn more about each other is an important step to start building trust and send the message that you care about your mentee’s success. You could do a school orientation and tour, have lunch out together, exchange phone numbers, or chat over coffee! Some things to consider:
- How can you get to know each other on both a personal and professional level?
- What are some things you want him/her to know about you, and vice versa?
- What ground rules/expectations/schedules (if any) do you want to set in place right away (i.e., for communication)?
After the craziness of the Back to School season ends, things won’t get any less busy for the new teacher. As the year progresses, so will your working relationship. Some questions to think about:
- How will you check in on your mentee throughout the year?
- How will you know when your working relationship is going well? How will you know when it’s not, and what will you do to address it?
- What other relationships can you help your mentee develop in the school community? (Remember, you are not the sole support system!)
What Should the Mentor-New Teacher Relationship Look Like?
Here are some thoughts about qualities of a healthy mentor-new teacher relationship that you’ll want to develop as you get to know and work with your mentee:
Communication. Ideally, you’ll have frequent (daily if possible) conversations with your mentee that go beyond “How was your day?” Consider having an open door policy; be available for your mentee to chat about the good, the bad, and the ugly. This can include face-to-face check-ins as well as texts, emails, and notes. If you like, set boundaries with your mentee about times you’re available to talk. Be sure to observe and listen to what is being said as well as what’s not!
Respect. This is definitely an important quality in the mentor-new teacher relationship and it needs to go both ways. Respect each other, your ideas, your feelings, your needs, your differences, and your time.
Empathy. We’ve all been that new teacher at some point. A little understanding and grace goes a long way. Providing your mentee a judgment-free space (and sharing your own highs and lows) will encourage him/her to talk things through rather than struggle alone.
Trust. Your mentee needs to trust that you will listen with an open mind and not slam him or her with judgment or share what is discussed with others (unless there is a safety concern, of course).
Flexibility. The needs of a new teacher will ebb and flow as you move through the school year, and so will yours. Your relationship may need to change throughout the year, and it will do so more easily with open communication.
Guidance. You are not there to answer every question or fix every problem, and that should not be your mentee’s expectation.
Collaboration. Healthy collaboration between you and your mentee should be a two-person effort, with both of you feeling that you can contribute and be heard.
…and this last one might surprise you: Joy. You don’t have to be best friends, but finding joy in your relationship, in your role, and in your mentee is certainly a helpful quality. Celebrating successes, finding things to laugh about, and learning from each other is all part of the package.
Your working relationship with your mentee does not have to be perfect, but it does have to work for both of you. Take a step back to reflect and reach out for help if it’s not going as well as you’d like.
Lots to think about here to help start the school year off on the right foot with your mentee! In the next post, I’ll be back with some tips on the work you’ll be doing as a mentor teacher!
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